They are proud veterans who knew the jungles of Cambodia and the deserts of Afghanistan, who worked as electricians on naval ships, translated Russian in the Cold War, and monitored the weather in Korea. But they dealt with haunting memories of war, drugs and alcohol, depression, loss of jobs and families, and eventually fell into homelessness. They found a healing community, and are now standing proud, at home.
Their stories are the subject of a video and photography project which gives a face and a voice to veterans who have experienced homelessness. "Vets Finding a Home" opened at Project H.O.M.E.'s 1515 Fairmount Avenue residence on Thursday, May 29 and will run until June 20.
This project, sponsored by Project H.O.M.E. as part of its 25th anniversary commemoration in 2014, is a collaboration between award-winning photographer Harvey Finkle and Mark Lyons of the Philadelphia Storytelling Project.
According to the U.S. government, one of eight homeless people is a veteran, almost twice the average of our general population. More than 62,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Homelessness among veterans increased 43 percent between 2009 and 2013.
"By giving homeless vets a voice and listening to their stories, we can learn from them and gain some insights about why they became homeless, how they heal, and our responsibility to support them as they rebuild their lives," said Lyons, who spent hundreds of hours interviewing the veterans.
"Everyone would like to feel they have a place, that they're needed and therefore respected — we're no different," said Dionne Stallworth, one of the veterans profiled in the project.
Since stabilizing her life, Stallworth has become an avid activist for the rights and dignity of the LGBT community, and has won awards for her work. Another one of the veterans profiled, Vince Sangmeister, will be displaying some of his remarkable paintings.
"For the last ten months my life has been so blessed and so enjoyable, compared to the eight years prior to me coming to Project Home," said Antoine Parks. "I can look at myself in the mirror and keep my head up."
Some of the videos featuring the vets' stories are available on the Project H.O.M.E. YouTube page.
Thanks to the veterans who courageously and generously shared their experiences: Earl Banks, Robert Jenkins, Antoine Parks, Vince Sangmeister, Dionne Stallworth, and Guy Williams.